13-year-old violinist Giovanni Mazza makes his mark on United Center court
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On Dec. 8, the Chicago Bulls will host a new round of their ongoing Kids Talent Search. The monthly series showcases the musical abilities of local children ages 5-14 who take center court for a special halftime performance. The winners (by round of applause) move on to the next division, and a final champion is crowned every April to receive a cash scholarship prize.
It was in this arena in 2015 that 9-year-old violinist Giovanni Mazza was first “discovered.” Though he didn’t end up winning his talent search round, Mazza says, “I think I won in the long run.” Shortly after his debut performance, the Bulls called Mazza back for another chance to perform, and it was a life-changing opportunity.
At the Chicago Bulls vs. Boston Celtics Game
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 8
Where: United Center, 1901 W. Madison
Since then, the now 13-year-old has been a featured act at more than 35 NBA games at 16 different arenas (including this weekend, when he returns to the United Center to play the national anthem) and has enjoyed showcases at two NBA All-Star games, White Sox home games and a few Northwestern match-ups. Hailing from the Chicago suburbs, Mazza has also been a favorite for local TV shows and was the cover of Chicago Parent magazine’s September 2018 issue.
Mazza’s style, a blend of classical violin with hip-hop and EDM overtones, is showcased on his debut five-song EP, independently released earlier this year, which features orchestral pop, Latin dance, alternative rock and trap influences. Several music videos, including an animated piece for his song “Encantado,” have been entered into the film festival circuit, including this summer’s Windy City International Film Festival.
“I really want the violin to be popular again, with kids my age especially, and so I’m trying to do more things with [the instrument] that no one really does,” says Mazza, who has been inspired by artists like string virtuoso Lindsey Stirling, who blend modern and traditional compositions. “With my EP, there are five different genres I play that really show what the violin can bring out. Classical is just one genre I can play.”
Mazza’s love for the violin began when he was just 3-years-old when he began his studies via the renowned Suzuki teaching method that provides children with an effective and natural musical foundation, much like acquiring a native language.
“It started at the local library. They had an instrument trial they called an ‘instrument petting zoo’,” he recalls. “I remember taking the violin out and really liked it, so I stuck with it.”
To help keep her young son motivated, Mazza’s mother Lisa started taking adult group violin lessons so she could practice with him. “But I was terrible,” she says laughing. “I didn’t even get through Suzuki Book 1 and he was already through Book 2.”
Remarkably, one of Mazza’s first performances was playing Symphony Center as a 3-year-old with other children in his Suzuki training group. By 7, he had moved into acting, earning his Screen Actors Guild Card for regular commercial work (including an ongoing gig with Walmart) and a small bit in Nickelodeon’s “Bella and the Bulldogs” show.
After being discovered by the Bulls as well as several other basketball team franchises who witnessed his talent at the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto, Mazza focused more on music and started working with his mentor, composer and television/film scorer Andrew Joslyn, who helped refine Mazza’s contemporary sound. Joselyn, the half-brother of “Saturday Night Live” comedian Chris Kattan, has a robust resume, having worked with Ryan Lewis & Macklemore as well as Kesha and Mark Lanegan.
“Andrew has been an amazing person to know, he’s so supportive and he’s been helping me write all the music I play during the NBA games now,” says Mazza, whose future goals include performing at a festival like the EDM-palooza Tomorrowland with some of his favorite DJs like Marshmello, Diplo and Steve Aoki.
For now, he’s still just a typical kid. When he isn’t traveling one to four times a month for performances (mostly on the weekends), he’s a part of his middle school’s soccer team, plays video games with his friends and watches movies, which taps into his love for acting. “I love Queen now after seeing the new movie [‘Bohemian Rhapsody’],” he admits. “I just hope I can always be a performer in some way. It’s what I love to do.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.